- Edward Aschoff, ESPN Staff Writer
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It didn’t take long for Aaron Murray's eagerness for spring practice to kick in.
Georgia’s redshirt junior quarterback turned his attention to March almost immediately after he left Raymond James Stadium on Jan. 2, following the Bulldogs’ overtime loss to Michigan State in the Outback Bowl.
He spent every night chatting with tight end -- and roommate -- Arthur Lynch about plays and routes. He took the time to drag his receivers out for extra throwing sessions three times a week -- all while going through offseason 7-on-7 sessions.
“I know I’m excited and everyone is ready to put last season behind us and get ready to go,” Murray said.
The workaholic didn’t end the season well, so he enters the spring with a bit of a chip on his shoulder and a thrust for improvement.
Even after helping to lift his team out of an 0-2 start and guiding the Bulldogs to their first SEC championship game since 2005, the criticism firing squad took aim at Georgia’s recording-breaking gunslinger.
After a freshman campaign in 2010 in which he broke the Georgia freshman record for offensive yards and tied for first for touchdown responsibility in a single season, Murray shattered the Bulldogs’ single-season passing touchdown record last fall with 35 and won 10 straight games.
Still, questions arose about Murray’s play when the stages got bigger. Murray went 0-4 as a freshman against ranked teams, and in 2011 he beat just two ranked teams. Georgia’s first two losses came to ranked opponents (Boise State and South Carolina), and its last two came in the SEC championship game against No. 1 LSU and in the Outback bowl against the 17th-ranked Spartans.
In Murray’s last four games, he threw eight touchdowns-to-six interceptions, including four picks in the last two games.
The criticism is justifiable, and Murray is the first to admit it, but he’s out to change this spring. He knows his demeanor changes in bigger games. The pressure starts to mount and he feels as though he must totally take over each game.
By doing that, Murray tries to put his entire team on his back. He wants to make that great play every play. Sometimes he loses trust in teammates because he feels as though he has to make sure he’s doing everything perfect, rather than right.
But that’s wrong, and Murray knows it. He ends up rushing plays, losing concentration and missing easy opportunities. For as talented as Murray is fundamentally, he knows he has to ax the Superman persona to take this team further in 2012.
“You’re never perfect and I know I have a lot more to do to be the best I can be,” he said. “I’m excited to have more opportunities to get better and work with [offensive coordinator Mike] Bobo and work with Coach [Mark] Richt and improve my game.”
To do that, Murray’s main objective is to work on his pocket presence. Bobo will be looking to transform Murray’s footwork and awareness, helping him to find more holes in the backfield and open players downfield, while tempering the pressure.
Murray also wants to develop better chemistry with his targets. That began with the extensive 7-on-7 drills and the extra passing sessions, but it will come full circle with more communication and patience in practice. More trust will help Murray realize that he isn’t the only player on the field.
He also wants to get back to having more fun and playing catch, which is pretty hard to do alone.
“At the end of the day, no matter who you’re playing ... it’s just football,” Murray said. “It’s the game I’ve played all my life and it’s the game I’ve loved all my life. I just have to play it to have fun. When I do that I’m at my best.”
Outside of making the offense more fluid and easier to manage, Murray is looking to make sure Georgia’s mindset is right. The Bulldogs will enter the fall as a favorite to win the SEC East and will be thrown into the national championship conversation. But hype has been a problem in the past (look at 2008), and Murray wants to change that.
Since the bowl loss, Murray has been instrumental in keeping this team together and having it focus on a bigger, better 2012. He led players through workouts, helped motivate guys during grueling mat drills -- which returned to help teach players how to finish and how to stay resilient -- and made sure his communication throughout the team increased.
Murray knows Georgia has the talent (15 starters return) to compete for multiple titles this fall, but the Bulldogs have had that before and fallen flat. He wasn’t around for the 2008 collapse, but Murray is making sure history doesn’t repeat itself.
“Just because we have that [talent] back obviously doesn’t mean the East is ours and that we’re heading back to Atlanta,” he said. “We still have a lot to improve on. We have  starters back, but that doesn’t mean those guys were perfect last year. Everyone knows they can improve their game. They can get faster, stronger.
“We still have a lot of work to do, but if we put in the time, we’re going to be pretty good next year.”